Fellow mayors reflect on memories, legacy of late Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 19, 2021

 On Nov. 23, 2012, leaders from the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods — including, from left, Grosse Pointe City Mayor Dale Scrace, Grosse Pointe Park City Council member Daniel Clark, Grosse Pointe Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski and Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke — present Santa with a key to the cities at the end of the annual Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade in the Village.

On Nov. 23, 2012, leaders from the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods — including, from left, Grosse Pointe City Mayor Dale Scrace, Grosse Pointe Park City Council member Daniel Clark, Grosse Pointe Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski and Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke — present Santa with a key to the cities at the end of the annual Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade in the Village.

File photo by Roy Feldman

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GROSSE POINTES — For Grosse Pointe Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski, his fondest memories of Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke don’t involve policy or politics — they involve baseball.

He was one of the many officials reflecting this week on the life and legacy of Novitke, who had served as the Woods mayor since 1990 and died March 14 at age 74. Kedzierski said that one of his “big joys” was riding in a convertible with Novitke during the annual Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little League parade each May, until COVID-19 caused the event’s cancellation in 2020.

“We’d have a nice time to chat in the car,” Kedzierski said, noting that both men waved to spectators along the route to Ghesquiere Park in the Woods. “He’d ask me about my family, and I’d ask about his.”

Kedzierski said Novitke, a veteran, also shared stories about his training for the Marine Corps.

In front of an audience of Little League players and parents who numbered as high as 1,000, Kedzierski said, he would throw out the first pitch to Novitke, who was waiting to catch it behind the mound.

“He’d say, ‘Throw it, but don’t throw it too hard,’” Kedzierski said. One year, wanting to make sure his pitch went far enough, Kedzierski said he ended up tossing it a bit too vigorously, knocking over Novitke. Fortunately, that didn’t end their friendship.

“He was a remarkable man,” Kedzierski said. “It’s a sad day for all of the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods, because he was a leader we would emulate.”

Before the pandemic, mayors of the five Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods would also take part in the annual Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade and monthly mayor-city manager meetings, but their contact didn’t end there.

Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak is a relative newcomer to politics; she was elected mayor in 2019 and has served on the Grosse Pointe City Council since 2016. She recalled how kind Novitke was — how he would call to ask about various projects and how the City was tackling those, giving them a chance to exchange ideas.

“He was very encouraging to me in a way I really appreciated,” Tomkowiak said. “He was very supportive.”

After 16 years on the Grosse Pointe Farms City Council, Louis Theros was elected mayor in 2017. He recalled Novitke as someone who cared deeply about his community.

“Mayor Novitke was a man who loved his city and loved serving it,” Theros said by email. “During his decades as mayor, he always did what he thought was best for Grosse Pointe Woods. Although I did not get the opportunity to meet with him during the last few years, he continued to be steady at the helm. He will be missed.”

Grosse Pointe Park Mayor Robert Denner has been mayor since 2015 and, before that, served on the City Council starting in 2003.

“He brought his considerable professional skills to bear as mayor,” Denner said of Novitke. “I always gained a lot of insights when I had the chance to discuss various (issues) with him that we all faced as mayors.”

Over the last year, Denner said, they often spoke about how to handle the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s almost hard to imagine Grosse Pointe Woods without him,” Denner said. “If you think of all of the things that have happened in the city (during his tenure), it really is quite a track record. Quite a legacy.”

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